I’ve been married for 9 years, so I know there are many differences between men and women–in how we communicate, process information and much more. What I didn’t fully understand or appreciate until recently, however, was just how much those differences affect the sales process in our industry and our client relationships.

I recently conducted an educational seminar for the Omaha Chapter of the American Society of Women Accountants. Called “Wising Up About Retirement: Successful Strategies for Smart Women,” and developed by Securian Financial Group, the seminar explains why women should care about retirement and financial planning strategies to meet their needs. The strategies we discussed include:

? Starting where you are and apply what you know. It’s never a wrong time to get started on a solid retirement plan.

? Getting the facts on Social Security.

? Learning about benefits plans. These encompass retirement programs, such as the 401(k); IRA rollovers, etc. If married, you should also know your rights under your spouse’s pension plan.

? Leveraging taxes, tax-deferred savings, annuities, cash value life insurance and Roth IRAs.

? Not putting all of one’s eggs in one basket. You should diversify investments held in individual and employer-sponsored retirement accounts using asset allocation strategies.

? Being a student on investments. Use common sense and invest only in what you understand.

? Developing a plan. We use Yogi Berra’s quote: “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.”

Activity and Discussion are Important

The hour and a half-long session, held at a local country club, was interactive and involved small-group and full-group discussions. There were exercises that emphasized information and spurred conversation.

The first activity “When I’m 64,” based on the classic Beatles’ song that begins with the words “Picture yourself in a boat, on a river,” enabled participants to take five minutes to think about and write down what they hope to be doing in retirement. The women shared their dreams of spending more time with grandchildren, traveling, embarking on new hobbies and activities, and furthering their educations. Compared with seminars I’ve held with male participants, women are much more likely to share information and participate.

How we’re different

Following our “When I’m 64″ exercise, we spent a significant amount of time talking about how men and women tend to think differently–how they focus, their ability to multi-task, intuition–and why it all matters.

In general, men perform better than women on tasks that require focus. Women tend to be better at work that requires multi-tasking. And whether you call it a gut feeling or intuition, women tend to take in the big picture, including body language, when communicating.

Related to finances, women tend to think about money and retirement in terms of the outcomes, where men tend to think about retirement in terms of dollar savings, such as “When I retire at age 60, we’ll need $250,000 in the 401(k).” Women are less likely to mention a dollar amount, but rather what they want to do at that age (e.g., “I want to spend a month in Northern Italy every year”).

Why it matters

Why does this all matter? It’s important because when men and women (husbands and wives or advisors and clients) talk about financial security and retirement planning, the differences can get in the way of defining goals and making plans. A portion of our seminar includes information about how to have a discussion with a spouse or significant other about retirement planning.

We also point out that most women will end up alone at the end of their lives because of the high divorce rate and because women tend to live longer than men. We reinforce why it’s crucial for them to be actively involved in their financial planning.

One of the biggest concerns expressed by participants relates to their staying healthy and independent in their older years. They’ve seen their grandparents and parents grapple with long-term care issues and disability needs.

According to the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER), the three basic money mistakes made by women are:

? Not getting involved in managing the family’s finances;

? Not getting professional advice soon enough; and

? Not realizing that most women end up living alone some day.

Our Wising Up seminar addresses all those points. And we are working to help women avoid making those mistakes.

Focus on the Relationship

The biggest “ah ha” moment for me in this seminar was realizing how much emotion and education need to be part of the sales process when working with female clients. In general, men are much more focused on the bottom line. Women, on the other hand, want to build the relationship first and be given choices.

Advisors need to appreciate that women like to see process. They like options. And they tend to prefer a lot of information before they make decisions. You could liken it to shopping. For the most part, women like to shop around before they buy. I don’t know many men who are big shoppers; they are buyers.

Women are also more open to advice and consultation, and want a strong relationship with their advisor. Bottom line: To be successful as a financial advisor to women, you must get to know your clients and focus on building long-term relationships.

At the beginning of 2006, consider adopting this New Year’s resolution: to more actively target the growing women’s market through seminars to local women’s groups. By availing women of these educational events, and by structuring content to address their concerns and objectives, you’ll be better able to meet their needs. That’s the way to wise up to the women’s market!